Ed Strang

at 09:35 on 7th Aug 2018

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Vince and Dave are in a morgue, dead. Then they wake up – are they alive, or still dead? This is the premise behind Marcus and Wilhelm’ latest existential production, ‘Stiffs’.

The script is clever and well-written, but the first thing that struck me was the lack of audience response – the actors just weren’t getting the laughs that they expected to. I put this down to the quality of the lines – they were amusing, just not laugh-out-loud.

The relationship between the two actors was commendable, with genuine chemistry existing between the two. Dave is camp, laid back, and peacockish while Dave is tetchy and uptight. Smart interchanges and lines such as “sometimes I wish I wasn’t dead” wrench life into their cadaverous characters, and the line between fact and fiction is trod carefully. For instance, while trying to work out their cause of death they decide to role-play to provide some answers. The role-play they enact is taken then at face value as truth: are they bringing to light suppressed memories or creating whimsical fiction? The audience never finds out.

Though constantly entertaining, the play fails to approach some of the more interesting questions that arise from the premise. The existentialist mode is touched on smartly at the end, but the purgatorial nature of the morgue, the abstract sounds they hear through the wall, the ghostly radio and autocorrecting autopsy – all mysterious and entertaining tropes – are never convincingly addressed. Though a comedy, one might expect a show that labels itself as ‘absurdist’ to at least strive to tackle one of these points head on.

The show feels at times Truman Show-esque, and at others like an early Beckett. The role of absurdism is not to answer the questions it raises, but I would have liked to see more of an exploration of this side of the show rather than consistent verbal banter. The premise is so unique and funny but I feel that the end result could have been achieved in any other scenario. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining and lively show and one to see if you have a free evening.

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Shauna Lewis

at 09:49 on 7th Aug 2018

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It’s apparent within the opening sneeze of ‘Stiffs’ that it’s a clever show. Focusing on Dave and Vince, who wake up one morning in a morgue, it’s amusing but it’s not laugh-out-loud funny. The show unravels in a ‘Waiting for Godot’-esque manner as the audience second-guesses everything they begin to learn about the characters and ultimately end up in the same place as before.

Dave (William Batty) and Vince (Mark Olszewski) are like a married couple by the end of the first five minutes. Their constant bickering makes it easy to feel comfortable, and it is commendable on the actors part that they took no time to settle into their roles. Although a typical dimwit dynamic, ‘Stiff’ played and written well enough to avoid being tired and overdone.

Dave immediately assumes the role of the straight man, and throughout he serves to make Vince’s actions and reactions appear all the more ridiculous. He seems more of a prop for Dave’s emotional journey. This doesn’t diminish Batty’s performance, but he is overshadowed by Vince throughout, who provides the majority of the laughs.

The pair’s physical comedy is also typical slapstick as they creep around the stage and smash dishes over heads, but it does create the comfortable comedic dynamic nearly everyone is familiar with. Their movement within the small venue also contributes to the idea of confinement, within themselves and the morgue.

A Marcus and Wilhelm production, ‘Stiff’ slowly reveals itself to be more than a comedy. It begins to play psychologically with the audience, making you question the perception you had of Vince for the first half of the show. Previously the imbecile, it begins to seem as if he knows more than he was letting on and you grow suspicious of the game he is playing.

It became like a game of cat and mouse almost: I wasn’t sure which character was going to turn on who. This is what I found brilliant about the writing – it made it tense, and set it aside from other comedies I’ve seen so far. Despite this unique quality and the cleverness of the writing, however, there were still elements that have been used before, and although done well, brought nothing new.

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